Home Album Reviews Swimming (Album Review) & The Strange Career Of Mac Miller

Swimming (Album Review) & The Strange Career Of Mac Miller

by Stuart Charles Black
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Table of Contents

Crying Out For Help
Self Care and Memento Mori
Ariana Grande and Ritualistic Sacrifice
2011 vs. 2013 – A Radical Change
2015 – 2018: The Final Years
Final Word

Warning: This won’t be your typical album review. Proceed with caution. It was also pretty hard to sit down and write this for various reasons, but here goes.

I’m gonna be honest: I cried when Mac passed.

Being familiar with his 2013 album “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” is a big reason why, and becomes the missing link that ties everything together.

I remember at the time being like “OK, now this guy is talking about something.”

Before that album came out, I wasn’t a huge fan of him.

I’d heard a few songs and thought he was your typical bubble gum rapper and didn’t give it much of a second thought.

Being a huge fan of underground Hip-Hop at the time, and the message within those songs, mainstream music just never resonated with me.

Think of a song like Masta Ace – Da Grind off of A Long Hot Summer, and you get the picture of what the genre is about:

“It sounds strange, but the rap game is not a game .. you can make a lot of money and a lot of fame.. but don’t get it twisted, you can get addicted, buy a mansion in the Hampton’s, and get evicted.”

Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer (2004)

I’m crying as I’m writing this because the song “2009” from his last album (Swimming) perfectly encapsulates Mac’s entire career in such a similar, devastating way.

“And sometimes, sometimes, I wish I took a simpler route .. instead of having demons that’s as big as my house.”

I think a lot of people (not all) tend to evaluate music (Rap in particular) at a surface level without trying to get to the root of what the person is saying.

Tupac talked about this when he was alive as well:

“Listen to the words people say in their lyrics, and tell me, if that’s some real sh**, if that’s real to you, you know what I mean. Listen to what they sayin’. Don’t just bob your head to the beat, peep the game, and listen to what I’m saying. Hold us accountable for it.”

-Tupac Shakur, from a Prison Interview and Interrogation (1995).

A man wise beyond his years. I think Mac was in many ways too.

I knew Mac was crying out for help in 2013.

There was something so dark and unsettling about “Watching Movies.”

To this day it’s still seared in my brain. In fact, I refuse to listen to it.

The opening track “The Star Room” is a fine example of a song laced with demons and demonic influence.

If you’re a spiritual person you can instantly recognize this, and even if you aren’t you can still feel the darkness in his altered voice, the beat, his tone, the depressing lyrics, etc.

It’s almost as if a demon himself took control of Mac and recorded the song:

“Don’t you ever wanna hideaway?/
Poseidon triumph in the eyes of rain/
Won’t give a fuck about tomorrow if I die today/
I’ll greet the devil with a smiling face/
Shit, that God fellow may reside in space/
As, time’s a-wasting I’m freebasing with Freemasons.”/

“But me, I’m still trapped inside my head/
It kinda feel like it’s a purgatory/
So polite and white, but I got family who would murder for me/
Think I’m living paradise, so what would I have to worry ’bout?/
Dealing with these demons, feel the pressure/
Find the perfect style/
Making sure my mom and dad are still somewhat in love/
All these backfires of, my experiments with drugs/
And I experience the touch of my epiphany in color form/
The difference between love and war inform me/
I’m above the norm.”/

“Haven’t picked a major label, think I’m blackballed/
I still don’t got the heart to pick my phone up when my dad calls/
Will he recognize his son when he hears my voice?/
I put this music against my life, I think I fear the choice.”/

I think Mac Miller as a person was torn between two conflicting ideas – a term that psychologists like to call “Cognitive Dissonance.”

Mac Miller’s last Instagram photo.

From Brand Name:

“Deadly aim, self-contained/
Superstar, they yell the name/
Blood diamonds, finna go to hell for my chain/
The P fitted on my head though/
I’m too high, you can’t reach me with the cell phone/
no goodbyes no hellos.”/

The cognitive dissonance here is being conflicted about going to hell vs. the love of his P-fitted baseball cap (A metaphor for materialism).

To everyone who sell me drugs/
Don’t mix it with that bullshit/
I’m hoping not to join the 27 Club/
Just want the coke-dealer house with the velvet rug/
Fuck the world, there’s no one else but us.”/

He wants the glamour and glitz while not having to suffer the consequences of his bad habits.

From Ascension:

“Dear family, my sanity go down when my cash go up/

He would also rap about that very thing in “What’s the Use” off of his final album (more on that later).

Rap too much, how the fuck to get through the verse/
I came from house parties/
Find a bitch and go through her purse/
All I need is a little good pussy and whole lot universe/
I met God before I ever stepped into a church/
And that motherfucker still owe me money/
Ohhh I need a religion to follow.”/
I swear to God that I got more problems/
Than there is bitches in Carlow/
Lord have Murciélago, yeah/
And I don’t know how the fuck I’m supposed
To look into my parent’s eyes when I’m scared to die/
My eyes same color as a cherry pie/
Woah, see I’m terrified/
Crucifix heavy, who gon’ carry mine?/
Yeah, what’s with all this talk about Hell and Satan/
And sleep deprivation/
If this is planet Earth, then my hell’s a basement.”/

His lyrics back the concept of Cognitive Dissonance in so many other instances throughout his work.

On one hand, he’s constantly telling you how rich he is, how he started from nothing, and how he’s now something (whatever that means).

How he likes to smoke weed and get high and how great it all is.

On the other hand, he’s lamenting his life as some sort of tragedy.

And that’s the saddest part because his life did end tragically. It’s almost like, in the grand scope of the entire universe, Mac knew he had a “part to play”, and he played it out.

I truly believe he was a spiritual person trapped inside a satanic music industry, and couldn’t get out even though on some level he wanted to.

At the same time, he desired fame & fortune, got it, and then I think he regretted it later on down the road.

From “2009”:

“And the time is running low .. when your heart get cold .. see what’s behind all them un-turned stones and I’m a pro when it comes to my job.. but really I’m just tryin’ to start believin’ in God.”

Of course in hindsight, it’s easy to look at his lyrics as some sort of bad omen but in reality, most of the album Swimming has a lot of symbolism and self-fulfilling prophecy hidden beneath the surface.

In a strange but subtle way, so does GO:OD AM.

First, we’ll talk about Swimming.

Take for example the song “Self Care.”

Self Care, or what a friend of mine dubbed “Life Balance” (That one always cracks me up. Thanks Kevin Segura!) is quite an interesting track from many perspectives.

First off, Mac has somehow been buried alive (in a strange ode to Kill Bill Vol. 2) and spends the entirety of the video/song kind of halfway trying to get out.

He doesn’t seem all too concerned that he’s alive, in a coffin, and underground.

Even the thought of that scenario makes me uncomfortable to the absolute max, to the extent that I’m squirming in my chair right now.

Mac is, by contrast, very ho-hum about it.

Now I realize he wasn’t actually being buried alive, but the attitude he portrayed during the video was very deliberate in my estimation.

Secondly, instead of being freaked out by the fact that he’s buried alive in a coffin, he just calmly lights a cigarette. Huh?

The song is titled “Self Care”, yet he’s puffing on a cancer stick.

So now we have a fantastic dose of irony in addition to the metaphor of the song itself. Wowwahhweewa.

Next, he pulls out a knife. “Ah, finally! He’s going to try and get out now!” Nope. Not yet.

Instead, he carves the phrase Memento Mori, which is Latin for “Remember that you will die.” This is also a pretty important concept in Freemasonry.

Thanks, Vigilant Citizen for the awesome write-up.

Memento Mori

Now we can go like a million different ways with this one, to be honest.

We could theoretically go down the conspiratorial rabbit hole, which I might do (Yeah, yeah!).

But for now let’s just say that by carving this, he’s reminding himself of his own mortality given many of the things that have happened to him over the year: Drug addiction, wrecking his car, aging, dealing with the illusion of material wealth, pick your life experience, really.

That’s perfectly logical. I’m not saying it isn’t. It’s important to remember that I’m not saying anything definitively about what happened, because I simply don’t know for certain. I’m just exploring all avenues.

Now at this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this little gem of a lyric, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy if I’ve ever heard it.

‘Yeah, well, climbing over that wall, mm (Yeah, wall, wall)
I remember, yes I remember, yes I remember it all
Swear the height be too tall (Yeah), so like September I fall
(Down, down, down) Down below, now I know that the medicine be on-call, yeah”

Did he predict his own death? Coincidence? I don’t know for sure. He died in September, only a month after the album was released, in the fall/autumn (or near it).

I mean, you can look at it any way you want (9/11 reference?), but the play on words, him alluding to the height of the wall (the obstacles in his life).

It may have all been too much for him.

Couple that with the fact that he’s in a coffin the entire video, carving the phrase “Remember You Have To Die”, and it becomes pretty obvious.

And what about this odd line:

“I love you I don’t love nobody else, yeah/
Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere./”

Now obviously he’s referring to Ariana Grande here, as she broke up with him and he still loves her.

But who is he referring to in that second line when he says “they?” Her handlers? What “B.S.” is he talking about? What did she have to do with it (if anything)?

After his death, a lot of people said he was sacrificed. I’ll just say it point-blank. I did some research on it and it seems plausible, although again, I don’t know for certain.

That’s another problem with the way society is progressing. There’s simply too much information to weed through (no pun intended).

How does one even find the truth? It’s becoming harder and harder with each passing day.

I will say that his death coincides with Occult practices and ritualistic sacrifice, and that really can’t be debated.

The concept of Gematria also delves into the Occult’s obsession with numbers and numerology, but that’s a whole different animal for another day.

Twice now with his hand over one eye. What does it all mean, basil?

And I digress…

The only argument I can really see is toward the end of the video.

Yes, he breaks free. Mainstream thought is that the whole video (and the album really) represent him finally confronting and eradicating his demons, and there is some merit to this theory.

It seems as though he was sober for a lot of the album, and was doing his absolute best to get his life back on track. “Swimming” out of the darkness so to speak, vs. Drowning into oblivion.

His posthumous album “Circles” kind of cancels this theory though, as the 2 albums were supposed to represent him “Swimming” in “Circles.”

I don’t know if that’s 100% true, but it’s what I’ve read.

On “Come Back To Earth”:

“And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming/
Through stressful waters to relief./”

That I applaud him for, and it makes it all the more heartbreaking that he passed.

I can’t imagine what drug addiction feels like or being trapped inside of something (the industry) that you can’t break free from.

If drug addiction is anything like fighting a porn addiction, I get it. I really do.

The difference here is that drugs can take you out. Watching porn can’t (unless you have a heart attack from excitement or something) 😛

I’ve always told people that I can imagine what an addict goes through with regard to trying to kick a habit as damaging and destructive as porn is.

It completely destroys everything good about sexuality and intimacy. It shatters your perspective and perception of women. It causes you to objectify women and look at them only as a means to an end (as screwed up as that sounds, it’s true).

But back on track.

On “2009”:

“A life ain’t a life ’til you live it, I was diggin’ me a hole/
Big enough to bury my soul/
Weight of the world, I gotta carry my own.”/

He’s reflecting on the fact that he was digging himself a hole, but the assumption is that now he’s put his life back together (which does make sense).

He now plans to hold himself accountable for his actions and finally take responsibility. Remember the end of Self Care?

He busts out of the grave and the music transforms into something more serene (but still a little dark).

The problem? Things also take a turn for the worse again.

At the very end of the video, everything starts exploding all around him in slow motion, signifying that he can’t escape death.

Just a month later and this eerie metaphor would become a grim reality.

So really, you can look at the song from many different angles. I personally still subscribe to the predicted death theory, but that’s only because I love a good conspiracy 😀

What do YOU think? Comment down below!

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Mac Miller could rap. Even when he was more mainstream, his flow was always on point.

When his lyrical content finally caught up in 2013, I became a fan.

I wouldn’t say his subject matter or wordplay was ever as clever or mature as someone like Common’s, but it’s certainly above average and he does tend to make you stop and think more often than not.

No, Mac’s real strength was always his delivery and flow.

He just had a way of riding the beat very well and always did a fantastic job interweaving his voice with the track in a very natural and organic way.

His talent was never in question.

His message was.

What’s particularly jarring is the transition from Blue Slide Park in 2011 to Watching Movies With The Sound Off in 2013.

I mean even the colors kind of hint at it.

Heck, even the album cover of the latter has him sitting at a table, completely naked (we don’t know for sure) with the absolute blankest of stares on his face in front of a blood-red background.

I mean it’s just eerie man; a stark contrast to what he was just 2 years earlier.

There’s an angel above him and to the right (presumably) looking down upon him.

Angels are typically associated with a sort of divine awareness, and to a large extent, I believe Mac was very spiritually aware of a lot of things.

Mac Miller – Watching Movies With The Sound Off (2013)

During the former album Blue Slide Park, we have an upbeat, hyped-up homie ready for fame and fortune.

Lots of partying, weed, alcohol, women, money, cursing every other word, etc.

You know, your typical mainstream airhead (no offense to him), addicted to the lifestyle already before he’s even gotten a real taste of it.

Fast forward 24 months and it seems like he’s ready to off himself.

Am I the only one who finds that a bit strange? Can you see the connection I’m trying to make?

Like I can’t even listen to Watching Movies anymore, it’s that depressing (especially given the fact that he’s now dead).

I know this review was supposed to be about Swimming but bear with me.

We have to take a step back to understand what Mac was saying in 2018.

Blue Slide Park

A stark contrast – Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park (2011)

It’s really hard for me to even sit through Blue Slide Park because outside of a couple of songs, it’s just not a very good album.

“Of the Soul” and “Missed Calls” are very good tracks, but most of the time Mac is just talking about stupid sh*t that caters to immature young kids

And yes I listened to the entire album; it was torture.

Towards the end, we can kind of see a glimpse of how he’s starting to mature as a rapper, but for the most part, the album is completely forgettable in my opinion.

Purists would call it a masterpiece, but I don’t see it.

He hasn’t quite developed yet and his flow isn’t really polished.

He’s just sort of rhyming words and while it’s technically proficient, it doesn’t mean much; thematically or otherwise.

Watching Movies With The Sound Off

On Watching Movies, Mac has a lot more self-awareness.

He seems concerned with his behavior and its implications, what it means in the grand scheme of things, who it might have an impact on, as well as the ramifications of generally being a complete f**k up. Lol.

He seems to understand that the ego and self-gratification are generally negative character flaws, though there is a propensity for indulgence in materialism on many tracks therein.

I’ve always viewed this album as him coming to terms with mortality and what life is truly about, vs. still being a star attached to the lifestyle.

The album is still incredibly vulgar and obscene in some ways (“Red Dot Music” feat. Action Bronson is particularly filthy and vile), but there are moments of greatness scattered abound.

“Objects in the Mirror” is a fine example of such a track that has the power to break you down emotionally.

His raw vulnerability is on display here, and the backing instrumentation provides a smooth, almost hazy sheen of warmth to complement his lyrics.

On “REMember” he laments the loss of a close friend, and it feels incredibly genuine and heartfelt.

I’ve cried many times listening to it, and I didn’t even know his friend.

He had the power to communicate everyday emotions and concepts to the listener, and here he conveys to us how he felt growing up as a kid with little worry.

It’s relatable, but yet still profound.

You identify with it because it makes you think back on your own childhood and how grateful you are for it (if you were privileged enough to be raised right).


Mac Miller – GO:OD AM (2015)

The 2015 album GO:OD AM saw a return to a brighter-sounding Mac, and it seemed like there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

His lyrics were still mostly vulgar, but the backing beats hinted at a more old-school, boom-bap type of sound.

It sounded like the feeling of giving yourself the cold water splash in the morning (Thanks Grandma).

Here Mac seemed incredibly sure of himself (perhaps a little cocky), and it showed.

The problem was that he’d end up contradicting himself again later.

On “Brand Name” he kind of mocks people for wanting a wife and kids:

“You don’t want this life I live/
You’d rather have the wife and kid.”/

But then, on “The Divine Feminine” from 2016, he dedicates the whole album to finding true love, including a snippet on the outro song from an older woman’s perspective; a woman looking back on her life and the great love she found, kids and all.

This is a fresh, newfound perspective that I think Mac adopted in his own mind.

I have to believe that Mac changed his mind about love and was perhaps starting to move in a different direction with regard to his thought process about life, and what it means to be a man.

The Divine Feminine

I didn’t actually hear this album until early 2019, and it’s perhaps his most mature offering.

To this day, the song “Soulmate” still gets me choked up (especially with the wonderfully placed Good Will Hunting sample at the beginning).

What is it about love that transforms a somewhat immature boy into a deeply introspective soul?

I think in many ways Mac has always been both, but here he touches on some really difficult concepts (true love vs. lust) and I think it works incredibly well.

The music sounds lush and organic, and the compositions are fresh, innovative, and unique.

As good as the album is, it’s but an anomaly in an otherwise good but flawed catalog of sounds in the late rapper’s career.


I think Swimming and Watching Movies are his 2 best works. 

Swimming in particular is hopeful, even despite these lyrics which I keep coming back to:

“And sometimes, sometimes, I wish I took a simpler route .. instead of having demons that’s as big as my house.”

On Hurt Feelings”, it seems as though he finally had that revelation about fame, fortune, and the industry – that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be:

“I keep my head above the water/
My eyes is gettin’ bigger so my head is gettin’ smaller/
I be gettin’ richer but that only made me crazy/
My momma told me I was different even when I was a baby.”/

Mac Miller – Swimming (2018)

Closing Thoughts

Throughout his career, It seemed as though Mac Miller was trying to be and do too many things at once.

First, he’s an immature young kid rapping about drugs and women, cursing every other word.

Then he’s a savvy businessman, entrepreneur, and millionaire.

Then he turns into an introspective and philosophical artist fighting demons and depression because of what all the fame and fortune brought him.

It goes back and forth like that throughout his discography, almost like a see-saw of uncertainty, despair, and ongoing contradiction.

Swimming to me represents his Magnum Opus, an album of eye-opening realizations about what life isn’t about (materialism/fame/wealth, etc.).

The thing is, he’s still kind of rapping about bling and the lifestyle (on tracks like “What’s the Use”).

“2009” is definitely one of his best songs, a piece that sort of takes a look back at his life as a whole.

Was it all really worth it? I don’t know if he thinks so, even despite seemingly sounding “happy” on the track.

There’s still an undertone of melancholy to the instrumental, and his voice is altered again this time in a strange, almost surreal way.

“Isn’t it funny we can make a lot of money?/
Buy a lot of things just to feel a lot of ugly?”/

In no way am I judging Miller. I fight similar battles and am deeply flawed just like the next guy.

I wrote this long piece because I cared about him, even despite never meeting him face to face.

He’s someone we can all relate to.

He injected some much-needed humanity in his songs, he rapped about his fears and doubts about, well, everything.

He touched on topics that most rappers don’t want to talk about.

He was deeply self-aware and even despite the vulgarity, his lyrics are thought-provoking – inciting much debate and discussion.

Because of that, in my mind, he will always be a memorable figure in Hip-Hop culture.

It’s just a shame the way his life ended. The fact that he was only 26 should really be a wake-up call to our own mortality.

Rest in Peace, Mac. You were truly one of a kind.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Mac Miller – Swimming Review and came away with some deeper insight into not only his life but perhaps your own.

Do you enjoy Hip-Hop music? If so, who is your favorite artist? Be sure to let me know!!

If you have any other questions or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or contact me!

I very much look forward to speaking with you…

All the best and God bless,





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